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Entries in Houston Astros (16)

Tuesday
Sep272011

Brett Myers' Improvement

Brett Myers of the Houston Astros has pitched to a 1.41 ERA over the last month, 5th best of any Major League starter.  In that six game span, Myers has gone 4-0 holding opposing batters to a line of .180/.273/.484.

One reason he's been so dominant has been his improved performance against lefties.

Brett Myers vs. LHB

Myers managed to keep the ball away from lefties more over the last month, and they were unable to do much against him.   They hit just .177 compared .302 prior to August 27th.  Lefties also saw a drop in slugging percentage against Myers, falling from .509 to .278.

Brett Myers vs. LHB

Myers is scheduled to pitch the last game of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday. While the game will mean essentially nothing to the Astros, the Cards are just one game back of the Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves. Brett Myers performance tomorrow could play a large role in determining which team will be sitting home in October.

Monday
Aug292011

Bud Norris' One Pitch

It's often said that in order to succeed, a starter needs three effective pitches in his arsenal. But what if a hurler has one otherworldly pitch and two that, well, stink? Can that guy succeed? Houston's Bud Norris makes for an interesting test case.

The 26-year-old right-hander throws three pitches: a fastball that sits around 93 mph and tops out at 96, a low-80s changeup and an upper-80s slider. But that fastball has little wiggle, tailing in on right-handed hitters less than three inches compared to a pitch thrown without spin (the average for right-handers is 5-6 inches), and his changeup doesn't do a good job of mirroring his too-straight fastball. That likely makes it easier for hitters to recognize the difference between the two pitches:

Release velocity and movement on Norris' fastball (orange) and changeup (green)

Norris' fastball is getting hammered for a .498 slugging percentage this season (.419 league average for righties), and his changeup has been scorched, too (.479 slugging percentage, .378 league average).

But oh, that slider! Hitters just can't handle Norris' hard breaker. Check out his in-play slugging percentage with the slider, compared to the league average for righties:

Hitters' in-play slugging percentage by location vs. Norris' slider

League average in-play slugging percentage vs. sliders

Batters have a paltry .283 slugging percentage against Norris' slider, well below the .335 league average. Norris has gone to his slider more than any starting pitcher save for Edwin Jackson, throwing the sinister pitch 38 percent of the time. Against right-handers, he throws more sliders (49 percent) than fastballs (44 percent).

Equipped with a sinister slider and a BP-worthy fastball and changeup, Norris has managed to post a 3.68 ERA (with fielding-independent stats to back it up) that bests the 3.97 average for NL starters this season. Who says you need three pitches to get it done in the rotation?

Monday
Aug222011

Altuve's Short Plate Appearances

Since signing with the Astros out of Venezuela in 2007, Jose Altuve has gone from pint-sized novelty act to a prominent part of the team's rebuilding efforts. The 5-foot-7 second baseman, a career .327/.386/.481 minor league hitter, made his MLB debut in late July and holds a .322/.336/.400 line so far in 121 plate appearances.

Altuve has succeeded to this point while swinging at just about everything. He has offered at about 54 percent of pitches seen overall, which is nine percentage points above the league average. Altuve might be short, but his strike zone is gigantic:

 Altuve's swing rate by pitch location

Altuve has chased 39 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28 percent league average. It's no surprise, then, that he has drawn all of two walks and has seen the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.1) of any major leaguer with 100+ plate appearances.

Despite his hacking, Altuve has fared well due to a low strikeout rate (under 11 percent) and a +.350 batting average on balls in play. It will be interesting to see if the 21-year-old can continue to defy expectations with his aytypical hitting approach and small frame. The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system has Altuve becoming an above-average hitter in the years to come, posting near-.300 averages with a dash of power.

Should Altuve settle in as a quality batter, he would be in rare company among his vertically-challenged brethren: just 21 hitters in MLB history have posted an OPS+ above 100 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) while standing 5-foot-7 or shorter, according to Baseball-Reference. And keep in mind that most of those guys played in the early 20th century, when the height of the average male was a couple of inches shorter than it is today. Joe Morgan, Yogi Berra, Don Buford, Albie Pearson and Bip Roberts are the only players on the list who played after World War II. Scouts have been selling Altuve short for years, though, so I wouldn't count him out.